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Deer Shed Festival 2016 Review (Part 2)

 
By on Tuesday, 2nd August 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

Go here to start at the beginning of Martin’s review of Deer Shed 2016.


Anna Calvi Deer Shed 2016 / photo by Martin Sharman

I mentioned in my Deer Shed preview that this year there were a notable number of female performers, and Anna Calvi‘s set completed my Saturday triumvirate. Hers is an intense sound: led by dominating Telecaster work and architectural voice, Calvi is a true guitar hero to both girls and boys alike. Speaking of which, Richard Hawley can play a note or two as well. His was a proper headlining performance, bringing out one vintage guitar after another: Gibson ES-335, gold top Les Paul with Bigsby and a stunning, enormous green Gretsch. This was near enough the perfect headlining performance, reminiscent of Johnny Marr‘s similarly triumphant show a couple of years before. Hawley has meandered through a number of styles over his long solo career, including pastoral acoustica, but tonight he was doing what he’s best at: being a guitar hero. It’s easy to forget that before becoming a frontman Hawley was primarily a guitarist, and all his impressive chops were on display tonight. His songs are epic, powerful things, dominated by his sublime guitar work, and solos that take one on a journey into the cosmos. As the centrepiece of the festival, there couldn’t have been a better choice.


Richard Hawley Deer Shed 2016 / photo by Martin Sharman

As for the kids, they had an absolute blast. The science tent was where it was at for the 4-and-a-half year old, making a flying buggy from some plastic Meccano, learning how to plant seeds, making his own pin badge, and – a better father-and-son activity it’s difficult to imagine – ripping apart the innards of a defunct laser printer with side-cutters and pliers. “This is a circuit board, those are capacitors… now destroy it with tools!” The theme this year was movies, so there were plenty of themed activities for the older ones to have a crack at, including making your own film set from a cardboard box and lolly sticks, and being tutored on how to make Gromit out of plasticine by Aardman Animations themselves. The activities are too numerous to list here, as the list of delights goes on and on. The mechanoid that filled its wader boots with air and let it out through a car horn was a particular hit. A new addition for 2016 was the sports field in front of Baldersby’s manor house: something for everyone, including proper football, a brilliant slacklining course, various yoga and keep-fit activities and a dedicated skate park. Yes, a dedicated skate park. Is there anything they haven’t thought of?


Martin's son at Deer Shed 2016

The beauty of Deer Shed is that, even though some of the kids activities are familiar year-on-year, as one’s kids grow up, they prefer to do different stuff every time. The festival grows up with the kids, an annual treat that they wouldn’t miss for the world. And Deer Shed did seem to grow up this year – there were more random sideshows and “happenings” than ever before. The Leeds Brass Band were a particular highlight, marching through the arena with gusto, occasionally stopping for a quick blast of ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This’, as an impromptu, grooving crowd gathered underneath the sunny skies.

On Sunday, Beth Orton was unlucky enough to play the only rain-sodden set of the day, the damp conditions hampering what would otherwise have been a collection of wonderfully chilled-out songs, ranging from 20-year-old classics to new ones from her latest release ‘Kidsticks’. But really, Sunday belonged to the final performance of the entire festival from Holy Moly and the Crackers. As befits a closing set, theirs was a raucous, whisky-sodden blast through their sea shanty-inspired gypsy-folk tunes, frontman Conrad the perfect mischievous ringleader. The tent was jumping from the first moment to the last, their expanded band thrashing out a cacophony of off-beat rhythms and trombone blasts. Wherever there’s Holy Moly, a party can’t be far away. And that was it. Ears ringing, we set off to collapse a damp tent, with perhaps one or two tear-dampened eyes to go along with it.

Well done, Deer Shed. I was a bit harsh about 2015, but this year was the best yet, by a considerable margin. The music policy, always good, got the headliners right (big indie band Friday, a proper legend Saturday), and the undercard was a delight to behold. There’s loads I haven’t mentioned, including the eclectic Big Top lineup, as well as some excellent comedy, but, as they say, there’s not the space to tell it all. All I can add is, if you’ve got kids and you love music, come to Deer Shed and find out what goes on there – I challenge you not to be surprised and delighted. Or else I’ll come round to your house and do the washing up for a year. In 2016, Deer Shed Festival was back. With a capital bang.

 

Preview: Deer Shed Festival 2016

 
By on Thursday, 21st July 2016 at 10:00 am
 

Do you think having kids means you can’t indulge in a festival weekend of nonstop, top class music, comedy and the odd craft ale? Deer Shed Festival 2016, nestled in the heart of beautiful North Yorkshire, is here to prove that little ones are no barrier to such delights. Now in its seventh year, and having grown bigger and better every year, Deer Shed prides itself on not just catering for kids in one corner of the festival arena, but actually integrating activities and attractions for your offspring throughout the festival itself. Activities break down roughly into Arts, Science, Sporty and Workshops categories, and there’s far too much going on to do justice to here. But here’s a list of the more, ahem, unique activities: Sock Wrestling, Tree Identification, Guerilla Archaeology, Taking Things to Pieces (my favourite!), not to mention loads of kid-friendly comedy and films.

So whilst the kids are busy deconstructing the inner workings of a cathode ray tube, the adults’ attention turns to the music stages. And I can confidently say that no festival has their finger on the pulse of contemporary alternative music as precisely as Deer Shed does. Between their modestly-sized stages, they put on an extraordinarily diverse and beautifully-curated lineup, the strength of which will make even the most clued-up muso stroke his or her beard and exclaim, “Forsooth, whence has this talented beat combo passed me by, for they are excellence personified!” (Translation: there’s loads of brilliant bands, some of which you’ve never heard of.)

There’s a lot of ladies at Deer Shed this year; it might even be the unofficial theme, like Celts were last year. By my calculation, almost exactly half of the acts are either actual ladies or lady-led, which is how it should be, but rarely is. Amongst others there’s Tuff Love, a pair of chiming, Glaswegian ladies with a melodic sensibility; Gwenno, ex of The Pipettes, her of the Welsh-language dystopian album ‘Y Dydd Olaf’; a rare festival appearance from famously reclusive Mancunian groovenik Lonelady; a touch of nu-soul from Mahalia; and Irish ethereality from Saint Sister. Phew.

Let’s turn to the headliners. And if I may indulge myself in a reminiscence, here’s some words from last year’s review (in which I got a bit huffy in parts): “the hope was that future years would essentially duplicate the pattern for well-regarded contemporary indie band on Friday for men of a certain age, big name from the parents’ past on Saturday for everyone.” Well, that’s exactly the formula that’s been used this year, and it promises to be a triumph. Everything Everything should need no introduction: now they’ve got three albums to go at, so expect their characteristic jumpy rhythms and highly-strung vocals, perhaps with a bit more guitar than we’re used to if their latest material is anything to go by. Beth Orton is the closing act on the Sunday, and a more gentle and apposite comedown is difficult to imagine. Her dreamy arrangements and almost-whispered vocals became the soundtrack to coming-of-age for a certain generation around the millennium that have all grown up a bit now but still remember fondly those hazy, lazy days.

When Deer Shed management asked on Facebook for suggestions as to future headliners, my answer was clear: Jarvis, Jarvis, Jarvis (I also made this suggestion in my 2014 review). If I’d thought harder, that answer actually could have been expanded to “any former member of Pulp with a decent solo career”, and who better fills that brief than Richard Hawley (pictured at top), Saturday’s main stage main man. He can pick and choose from an oeuvre spanning decades, varying from gentle pastoral acoustica to transcendental psychedelic jams. He’s rapidly becoming one of the country’s most well-renowned songwriters and performers, managing to be both a ‘50s throwback and achingly contemporary simultaneously and effortlessly. It’s difficult to think of a more appropriate talent to be this year’s main attraction… Unless he’s joined by Jarvis, of course!

All in all, it really is no exaggeration to say that 2016 could and should be the best year yet at Baldersby. The secret to Deer Shed Festival? It’s not just for kids.

 

Split Festival 2011 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 3rd October 2011 at 2:00 pm
 

Each festival is defined by its terroir: the land on which it takes place that gives it its atmosphere and reason for being. Where would Glastonbury be without its mythical rumours of ley lines and King Arthur, for instance? At first glance, the city centre of Sunderland wouldn’t be considered prime real estate by festival goers. But Split Festival have found a very accommodating venue in Ashbrooke Sports Club, a cricket and rugby venue with a proud tradition of sport, and a rather fine clubhouse, which is given over for a weekend a year to all manner of musical, comedic and gourmet endeavours. Some of the rugby team even double up as security.

Inevitably a festival on a tiny scale, there’s one large tent, a ‘fringe’ tent, and a food tent, laden with all sorts of edible goodies. The clubhouse is off-limits for regular punters, being reserved for staff, performers and press – and the regular sporting participants and their families, who continue to absorb their rugby league and Premiership football in the bar, even as the racket emanates from the tent below, whilst many a music fan’s Adidas wreak their havoc on the previously hallowed cricket outfield.

Sunderland clearly deserves its own festival; even though there are big national and international names on the bill, the roll-call of local talent is rather impressive, with Saturday’s Vinyl Jacket, B>E>A>K, Beth Jeans Houghton and Little Comets holding up the North-East corner. Beth Orton played a superb, brave solo set in the fringe tent, proving that even shorn of instrumentation, her songs still hold the power to captivate. The Rifles somehow manage to sound like an indie Madness, which is no bad thing when you get your head round it.

The Mystery Jets’ epic, thoughtful set is well-received, Blaine Harrison managing to deliver plenty of excitement despite being sat down throughout the set. The Drums bring a touch of flouncy transatlantic glamour to the affair – sticking to their new material, the set is tense, sparsely arranged, aloof. Something of an acquired taste, and not the most likely choice to bring a crowd to an excited climax on the end of day one, but certainly a class act. (Further, I got a chance to chat with them; you can read my interview with them here.)

On Sunday (day two), Hyde and Beast continue their meteoric ascent with a note-perfect rendition of the best bits of recent album ‘Slow Down’ (review here). Unsurprisingly popular, with the sprinkling of Futureheads in the line-up, the crowd give a justified warm welcome to the downtempo, subtle psychedelia. The only festival I can remember that actually runs ahead of time, Ganglians are off almost as soon as they are supposed to have begun, looking nonplussed about the whole affair.
Dinosaur Pile-Up’s stripped-down, Ash-on-steroids set is slightly incongruous in the late summer sunshine, and there’s a feeling of killing time until the utterly wonderful Frankie and the Heartstrings take the stage.

Arguably the biggest band in Sunderland at present, a truly deserved accolade, practically every song sounds like a hit single, with plenty of that jerky, assertive rhythm that distinguishes a Sunderland band. Frankie himself is a classic frontman, throwing shapes with abandon, the crowd enthralled. An apparently unplanned power cut in the last song couldn’t have been better timed, Frankie whipping the audience into a frenzied chant of “Sunderland!” in the darkness, until persuaded to leave the stage minutes later by a bouncer who himself couldn’t help but hold his fist aloft, proud as punch. Every festival has its ecstatic moment which sums up all that is special about the weekend. This was Split’s.

After such a strong set, the Charlatans had a tough job, and they sort of got away with it by dint of being a professional, well-rehearsed unit, with a popular body of work behind them. Great for fans, but missing something of the connection of the previous act. And after all that, it’s a short hop home. Festivals in cities are something of a rarity, but there’s something to be said for good transport links, and being in bed in time for getting up for work on Monday morning. On this showing, Split 2012 should be an unmissable event.

 
 
 

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